Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's Only Words?

For a couple of weeks now I have been resisting the urge to comment on the sudden argument over the "f-word"- no, not the naughty finger kind, but the one that rhymes with "maggot." The one that people have been using for years to refer to someone like me. It seems like this word is getting a bunch of press lately whenever someone uses it. For those of you who have been living under a rock (and it's amazing that you get such a great Internet connection there, I must say!), let's recap shall we? We shall.

*On the set of Grey's Anatomy last October, Isaiah Washington, during a physical fight, refered to then closeted T.R. Knight using this word. At the Golden Globes in January, he denied it ever happened, then met with GLSEN and GLAAD to get sensitivity, then entered rehab for his homo-hating ways.

*Last month, a 72 year-old man started singing on the bus he was riding with his niece. An annoyed fellow passenger, asked him if he was gay. When this was confirmed, the man followed him off the bus and beat him with a pipe while reportedly calling the elderly man a 'f*gg*t' . After a few days in a coma, the gay senior died after receiving the last rites.

*This past weekend, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Anne Coulter tried to make an unfunny joke about the Isaiah Washington incident and then called John Edward the same name. (I have discovered since that it's not her first time doing this.) Last night, she defended her statement insisting she didn't mean to offend anyone. No, rather, Coulter says she used a "schoolyard word" for "wuss, nerd".

*Today I read about a woman in San Francisco (of all places!) who saw a gay couple, rolled down her window and threw fruit at them (Get it? Because they are 'fruits!' Clever!). Then she drove by a second time and yelled the f-word at them. She later told police she "wasn't aware" they were gay. (Again with the cleverness!)

The reason I've been putting off posting about this insult onslaught is that I didn't really have anything new to add this discussion. These are sad/bad events and everyone seems to say the same predictable things about them. However, John Amaechi's (a gay former NBA player and HRC spokesperson) comments on the subject recently changed my mind. He said many things but the statement that captured my attention was "Words have power."

This reminded me of a poem I came across on a friend's MySpace blog. Written by Countée Cullen (1903-1946), it's called Incident.

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

After reading this poem, I remembered vividly a similar occurrance that happened to me at university. At the time, I wasn't "out" to myself or others. I clearly remember sitting talking animatedly to one of my close friends. Now usually I took great pains to keep my voice low and my hand gestures at a minimum. However this day, I was particularly excited about something and forgot myself. The jock that was sitting on the chair across from us, suddenly threw down his paper and disgustedly said to me "Are you a f*gg*t or what?"

Time stopped for me at that moment. I was uncharacteristically speechless and felt suddenly very vulnerable. I do remember my friend yelling at him to leave me alone and she and I left for the cafeteria. I thanked her for that and even now I am touched that someone stuck up for me at what was a defining moment in my life. After that, I started asking questions to myself about how others see me and how I saw myself. I've already posted about the rest of my journey so I'll end there.

My hope is that with these recent events, our society can start a dialogue about bigotry towards this certain group of people. Why is this particular word so offensive? Why do some gay people use it? Is it protected by the First Amendment? Is it "hate speech?" Or, after all is said and done, "it's only words?"


Threnody said...

I use the word now and then. And why shouldn't I proudly proclaim how "faggoty" I've dressed, when it's intentional and I'm enjoying it? Context makes a big difference in how the word was taken.

I think there's a bit of a generation gap on this one, though. I mean I've only heard the word used disparagingly a few times in my life. Those who've been taunted with it endlessly might have a bit of a problem seeing any positive in it.

I'd imagine the real old timers might still feel the same way about "queer" as well.

Anonymous said...

One day, I walking from my favorite park in Sioux Falls, SD. As I was on my way back, several young white males were in a car going down the street. As they saw me, one yelled, "Hey nigger!", laughed with his friends, waved, and continued going down the street.

My heart was so sad. I did nothing to them. I don't know them. They don't know me. All they saw was just one element of who I am. They don't know that I'm a violinist, singer, big sister, nature lover, or movie watcher. All they saw was the color of my skin. So they got many of the stereotypes and prejudices that goes with my outward appearance and called me a nigger. And worst of all, they thought it was funny.

I purposefully wrote the whole word (nigger) down. So many times, it's called the n-word or the person tries to modify the word with nigga. But no matter how you place the word, the spite and scorn still is there.

That brings me to the post. I don't like the word. Period. Using f*ggot in the way Isaiah and the San Francisco did is very disturbing to me. The attitude behind that word is one of spite, scorn, and ignorance.

I respect the first comment posted. Guess my experiences are a bit different.

I've been called a nigger, spade, darkie, bitch, and other words I chose not to remember. The negative emotions are still there.

Also, I think it's not the word itself. It's the hateful emotions behind the words. No matter what the word is or what it may change to within the next decade, the ignorance that created the word will still be there. I just pray that it won't be.


Lance Noe said...

Its only a word!

words may have power but just like glinda says, "be gone! you have no power here!"

personally, i like the word. it makes me giggle. Especially since i know the root of the word.

breathe baby, water on a ducks back! mountains and mole hills!

if someone you know that hates you says that word it still isn't that word that angers me it is the emotion. I can hate the emotion but the word.... well that is silly. it is like hating the word, after or see or table.

it is only a word.